Because my family kept Great Grams at home with us, instead of in a nursing home, I was confronted the daily the needs of an Alzheimer’s patient. I kept thinking about and reading about Alzheimer’s disease. It was becoming clearer and clearer to me that I wanted to spend my life helping Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.
From age 8 to 10, I was assuming more and more responsibility for Great Grams. By the time I was 10, she was in and out of hospital geriatric wards. She, like 40% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, was always trying to escape. I guess if someone doesn’t recognize their surroundings, so they always think they are in a strange, unfamiliar place, they are going to keep trying to escape and go home. That’s what Great Grams did. However, this meant taking turns sleeping on the floor at the door to Great Grams’ room. I spent many nights there. Great Grams wasn’t just a wanderer as many Alzheimer’s patients are, she was an escapist. She would actually plan her escapes, many times going to sleep with her underclothes and slip on under her nightgown so that she could make a faster escape. Once she actually did get out, early in the morning. In her 90’s, with a bad leg, she made it down the hill, to the corner of a major street, flagged down a truck driver and told him we were trying to kill her, and she convinced him to let her climb into her truck. Thankfully, he and his wife took her to the police station where she was, once again, admitted to the geriatric psychiatry ward.
Great Grams passed away when I was 10. Just months before her death, we took her to Hawaii with us. We had many wonderful experiences there, but also some harrowing ones. I used to joke that I got to meet many native Hawaiians on that trip. However, they were all members of the Honolulu Police Department. Apparently, that’s what happens when a woman in her 90’s runs up to a Honolulu Policeman and tells him that those people are trying to kill her. Once someone says that, the police department is forced to investigate. Luckily the manager of the resort was going through similar episodes with her own mother. The incident passed several hours later, and the next day we all spent a pleasant day at the Dole Plantation. Great Grams passed away about seven months later.
I’ll always remember how difficult it was watching Great Grams lose her memories. It’s something I don’t want anyone to go through – ever. That’s why I’m working so hard to change the face of Alzheimer’s disease. I’d like to encourage you to look for opportunities in your own life to give back to society. I’ll talk about that in tomorrow’s post.
Do you have creative ideas for ways to help the people you know with Alzheimer’s Disease?